After months of off-season workouts and early morning lifts, long afternoon practices and hours of video, the next eight days will determine the postseason fate of the Harvard men’s lacrosse team. Luckily for the Crimson, it still controls its own destiny.
Harvard, which missed an opportunity to solidify its spot in the Ivy League Tournament when it lost to Pennsylvania last weekend, has a second chance as it hosts No. 13/14 Princeton (8-3, 4-0 Ivy) at Harvard Stadium on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. A win guarantees the Crimson (6-6, 2-2 Ivy) a spot in the four-team field, while a loss will potentially force Harvard into a must-win situation in its final league game of the season at Yale on Apr. 28.
With Saturday’s game falling on Senior Day, the squad’s 11 veterans will be honored in pregame festivities. But the gravity of the matchup against the Tigers is not lost on the Crimson’s most experienced players.
“[Princeton] is always a very good team,” senior attackman Jeff Cohen said. “We know that it’s going to be a battle.”
While the Crimson hasn’t yet fulfilled the preseason hopes of many, a postseason berth offers the promise of a clean slate and the opportunity to compete for a national title.
The Ivy League, which includes only seven members in men’s lacrosse (Columbia does not have a team), offers bids to its postseason tournaments to the top four finishers in the regular season.
Harvard currently sits at fourth place in the standings, a half-game behind third-place Yale. The Crimson is also one full game ahead of Brown, which it defeated earlier this season, thereby clinching the tie-breaker should the two squads finish the season tied in fourth place.
No. 3 Cornell and Princeton are atop the Ancient Eight with perfect 4-0 records, winless Dartmouth occupies the basement position, and Penn, which got its first league win against the Crimson last Saturday, must win its final two games and get some help in the form of multiple losses from Brown and Harvard to make the tournament.
The bottom line for the Crimson: a win in either of its next two games—tomorrow at Princeton or the following Saturday at Yale—secures a spot in the Ivy League Tournament. With the tournament champion receiving an automatic bid to the 16-team NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championships, each member of the four-team Ivy Tournament field is only two wins away from the chance to compete for a national title.
After squandering an early lead against Penn last weekend and finding itself unable to escape a four-goal deficit in the second half, Harvard will look to put together a complete game on Saturday. But that will be no small task against a formidable opponent.
“Princeton is a team that we know well,” Crimson coach Chris Wojcik ’96 said. “They’ve been playing at a very high level. They excel in every phase of the game.”
The Tigers enter the contest ranked among the nation’s best 15 teams. The squad’s only losses have come at the hands of No. 7/6 Johns Hopkins, No. 9 North Carolina, and No. 14/15 Syracuse by a combined total of four goals.
Princeton boasts a balanced offensive attack that is ranked ninth in the nation at 12 goals per game. Eight Princeton players have tallied double-digit point totals on the season, with sophomore attackman Tom Schreiber leading the way with 25 goals and 20 assists. Junior midfielder Jeff Froccaro has 20 goals of his own, and four other Princeton players have scored at least 10 times.
Equally impressive has been the Princeton defense, which has allowed an average of just under seven goals per contest. The Harvard offense has averaged eleven goals through its twelve games, but the Tigers have not allowed more than ten in a single game all season. In five of those contests, the Princeton defense held its opposition to six goals or fewer.
One key matchup will come at the midfield, where Crimson freshman midfielder Keegan Michel will take the majority of faceoffs against Tigers junior Bobby Lucas, who boasts a .583 win percentage on the season. Michel has won over 60-percent of his faceoffs,12th in the nation, and has been dominant in the middle at times, winning 13 consecutive first-half faceoffs against Quinnipiac earlier this month.
“We’re going to have to play very well,” Wojcik said. “But we control our own destiny, and we’re excited about the opportunity we have on Saturday.”
—Staff writer James M. Acer can be reached at email@example.com.